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  • Archive for the 'Arts & Letters' Category

    A Reminiscence of Easter in Greece

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 18th April 2014 (All posts by )

    (Part of this essay is in a collection of reminiscences about living overseas – but Greece to me was very special, even in spite of a certain problem with terrorism in the 1980s. The opportunities to visit the Parthenon regularly, as well as other classical sites … well, I used to feel sorry for people coming through on a whirlwind tour. They had only a week or two to spend in Greece, but I had almost three years.)
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anglosphere, Arts & Letters, Christianity, Europe, Holidays, Recipes | 3 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 13th April 2014 (All posts by )

    Christopher Hitchens:

    Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the ‘transcendent’ and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.

    This wears well.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Morality and Philosphy, Quotations, Rhetoric, Tradeoffs | 6 Comments »

    A Hunger for Normalcy?

    Posted by David Foster on 2nd March 2014 (All posts by )

    Stephen Marche, writing about the Oscars, asserts that:

    The aesthetic criteria are pure cover, of course. The Oscars actually register which films the Hollywood elite think they ought to like. This is much more useful than a prize for merit. It provides a sense of the approved story lines of mass culture.

    …and goes on to say that what he sees projected in the front-runners and in many other recent films is a hunger for normalcy:

    This narrative is a marked change from previous years. Hollywood, and American moviegoers generally, likes the win. The common wisdom is that it wants not just a happy ending, but a triumph. Up! not down. Think Rocky. Think Gladiator, and Slumdog Millionaire, and Argo, and The King’s Speech….Obviously we can no longer stomach such victories. The story of overcoming and making a better world simply won’t fly anymore. Our version of winning, at this point, is simply being a human being, having your feet in the tall grass, having a family, being able to talk to a person in the flesh. Those are the “big wins” in America in 2013, at least by the lights of the nominees for best picture. 

    You can’t say it doesn’t fit the mood. We want everything to get back to normal. We want employment to return at the end of a recession. We want the American government to work again. None of it seems too much to ask, but obviously it is.

    RTWT

    I’m reminded of a passage in C S Lewis’s fantasy novel That Hideous Strength. The protagonist, Mark Studdock, is being held captive by a sinister cult. The room in which he is being held is intended, via both its structure and its artistic decorations, to create a maximum sense of disorientation in the prisoner. But:

    ...the built and painted perversity of this room had the effect of making him aware, as he had never been aware before, of this room’s opposite. As the desert first teaches men to love water, or as absence first reveals affection, there rose up against this background of the sour and the crooked some kind of vision of the sweet and the straight. Something else – something he vaguely called the “Normal” – apparently existed. He had never thought about it before. But there it was solid, massive, with a shape of its own, almost like something you could touch, or eat, or fall in love with. It was all mixed up with Jane and fried eggs and soap and sunlight and the rooks cawing at Cure Hardy and the thought that, somewhere outside, daylight was going on at that moment. He was not thinking in moral terms at all; or else (what is much the same thing) he was having his first deeply moral experience.

    (Oscars link via Newmark’s Door)

     

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Civil Society, Human Behavior, Media, USA | 9 Comments »

    Stories

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 26th February 2014 (All posts by )

    (This afternoon I am working through my archives for materiel to post on the Watercress Press website blog, and I came across this post from … well, a while back. I thought it might be relevant, in these unsettled days and in light of various Boyz reminiscing about Tolkien and heroic days of yore. It might also serve as a departing point for a train of thought, especially when we need more inspiration than ever.)

    I am not one of those given to assume that just because a lot of people like something, then it must be good; after all, Debbie Boone’s warbling of You Light Up My Life was on top of American Top Forty for what seemed like most of the decade in the late 70s, although that damned song sucked with sufficient force to draw in small planets. Everyone that I knew ran gagging and heaving when it came on the radio, but obviously a lot of people somewhere liked it enough to keep it there, week after week after week. A lot of people read The DaVinci Code, deriving amusement and satisfaction thereby, and some take pleasure in Adam Sandler movies or Barbara Cartland romances – no, popularity of something does not guarantee quality, and I often have the feeling that the tastemakers of popular culture are often quite miffed – contemptuous, even – when they pronounce an unfavorable judgment upon an item of mass entertainment which turns out to be wildly, wildly popular anyway.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Business, Deep Thoughts, History, Lit Crit, Media, War and Peace | 4 Comments »

    Establishment Media

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 24th February 2014 (All posts by )

    Yes, I know very well that that is; to be the in-house media functionary. Not quite the so-called ‘real’ news media, but to be an employee/technician/writer/personality for the in-house public affairs media of a large government element – the US Air Force. I wouldn’t be so bitchy as to call the various offices that I worked in – base Public Affairs, the stint with a couple of production detachments focusing on informational elements for various departments of government, and for the largest part of my service life as a low-level minion of the keeping-up-the-morale-of-our-overseas-stationed-troops effort – as an in-house claque … but yeah. I’m almost two decades retired from the game, so maybe I can. Yes, I – and all the other AFRTS, PA pukes and military videographers – we were hired, paid and maintained in order to further the public affair goals of the US military. No shame in admitting that. Good outfits in the main; paid only moderately well, and a smidgen of a retirement after all that – but good on the whole to work for, and any number of former military public affairs personnel have used the experience as a stepping-stone to careers in journalism, television, and politics, to name just a few fields.

    The thing is – we all knew who we worked for; the military. And one of those lessons was that we should never reflect discredit on the military in our productions or in our actions in uniform. Fair go, being employees, we could not be seen to wash the institutional dirty laundry in public, and all. Public Affairs’ mission in the event of the dirty laundry coming out, was to spin so as to make it seem somewhat less dirty.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Civil Society, Current Events, Media, Military Affairs | 8 Comments »

    How Hillary Clinton & Barack Obama & Crew Want You to Live Your Life…

    Posted by David Foster on 21st February 2014 (All posts by )

    …as prefigured in a poem by W H Auden:

    He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
    One against whom there was no official complaint,
    And all the reports of his conduct agree
    That, in the modern sense of the old-fashioned word, he was a saint,
    For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
    Except for the war till the day he retired
    He worked in a factory and never got fired,
    But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
    Yet he wasn’t a scab or odd in his views,
    For his union reports that he paid his dues,
    (Our report of his union shows it was sound)
    And our Social Psychology workers found
    That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
    The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day,
    And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
    Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
    And his Health-card shows that he was once in hospital but left it cured.
    Both Producers Research and High–Grade Living declare
    He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Installment Plan
    And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
    A gramophone, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
    Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
    That he held the proper opinions for the time of the year;
    When there was peace he was for peace; when there was war he went.
    He was married and added five children to the population,
    which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation,
    And our teachers report he never interfered with their education.
    Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
    Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard. 

     The Unknown Citizen, W H Auden, 1940

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Britain, Poetry, Political Philosophy, Politics, USA | 2 Comments »

    A Very Funny Post About a Very Serious Topic

    Posted by David Foster on 20th February 2014 (All posts by )

    The association known as the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) has apparently been wracked, of late, by political-correctness insanity. SF writer Sarah Hoyt  posts about her experiences with this organization. Not to be missed!

    The politicization of all aspects of American life continues apace.

     

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Civil Society, Humor, Leftism, USA | 17 Comments »

    History Friday: T.E. Hulme (1883-1917)

    Posted by Lexington Green on 14th February 2014 (All posts by )

    T.E. Hulme was a poet and critic who died leaving behind a very small corpus of work. Nonetheless, he is considered to be an influential figure in artistic modernism, and more tenuously, in modern conservatism.

    Further, Hulme was an English version of a peculiar type of artist and intellectual that emerged in the early 20th century, which we rarely see anymore: A radical reactionary, a revolutionary conservative, or an anarchistic tory. On the Continent, these sorts of people tended toward fascism. An excellent book on this era is The Generation of 1914.

    In the English speaking world, they tended to be religious and cultural conservatives. T.S. Eliot falls into this category. My favorite, Evelyn Waugh falls generally on this part of the spectrum, as well, though Waugh is a late specimen of the type, and on the more pugnacious side, which I like.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anglosphere, Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Britain, History, Quotations | 8 Comments »

    Studying “Frankenstein” Without Reading “Frankenstein”

    Posted by David Foster on 9th February 2014 (All posts by )

    Here’s an English textbook, “The British Tradition,” which devotes 17 pages to Mary Shelley’s novel “Frankenstein.”

    Two of those are taken up by modern author Elizabeth McCracken telling students about the scary movies she watched as a child, including Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein as well as dreams she had. Under the heading “Critical Reading,” students are asked what movies McCracken watched as a child. Another page features a hokey picture of a Frankenstein monster circa 1955.

    In the margins of the Teacher’s Edition to the textbook, teachers are encouraged to ask their students what “classic” stories of urban myths, tales of alien abductions, or ghost stories they have heard. Examples include stories of alligators in sewers, a man abducted for his kidneys, and aliens landing in Roswell, New Mexico. Students are asked to write a paragraph on “one of these modern urban myths.” The learning continues when students are challenged to write “a brief autobiography of a monster.” The editors lament that most monster stories are told from the perspective of “the humans confronting the monster.” They want to turn the tables by having students consider “what monsters think about their treatment.”  Those poor, misunderstood monsters!

    (As Joanne Jacobs notes, the lament that most monster stories are told from the perspective of the humans rather than the monster completely ignores the fact that much of Frankenstein is told from the monster’s perspective, albeit as quoted by Victor Frankenstein,  the first-person narrator.)

    Three pages out of the seventeen feature Mary Shelley’s actual words on them. But they are not selections from the novel or any kind of preparation for reading the novel. Rather, they are taken from an introduction Shelley wrote about writing the novel. The only indication that students are encouraged to read Frankenstein is a box in the margin of the Teacher’s Edition indicating that the “advanced readers” who are “interested” might read a “segment” of the novel in order to compare the monster to Shelley’s description in her introduction. 

    The book allocates five pages (two more than are given to Mary Shelley) to a script of a Saturday Night Live parody of Frankenstein. First, students are invited “to share their impressions of the long-running comedy show.” Again the talented-and-gifted students are called to the fore, as they are supposed to obtain props, costumes, and make-up that will enable them to “take roles and do a dramatic reading” of the script.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Education, USA | 19 Comments »

    Why the Grand Inquisitor Sentenced Jesus Christ to be Burned at the Stake

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd February 2014 (All posts by )

    It seems that Jesus Christ returned to earth, sometime during the sixteenth century…at least, this is the premise of the parable that Ivan relates to Alyosha, in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov.  The city to which Christ came was  Seville,  where on the previous day before almost a hundred heretics had been burnt by the cardinal, the Grand Inquisitor, “in a magnificent auto da fe, in the presence of the king, the court, the knights, the cardinals, the most charming ladies of the court, and the whole population of Seville. He came softly, unobserved, and yet, strange to say, everyone recognised Him.”

    But the Grand Inquisitor observes the way in which people are being irresistibly drawn to Jesus, and causes him to be arrested and taken away.

    The crowd instantly bows down to the earth, like one man, before the old Inquisitor. He blesses the people in silence and passes on. The guards lead their prisoner to the close, gloomy vaulted prison- in the ancient palace of the Holy  Inquisition and shut him in it. The day passes and is followed by the dark, burning, ‘breathless’ night of Seville. The air is ‘fragrant with laurel and lemon.’ In the pitch darkness the iron door of the prison is suddenly opened and the Grand Inquisitor himself comes in with a light in his hand. He is alone; the door is closed at once behind him. He stands in the doorway and for a minute or two gazes into His face. At last he goes up slowly, sets the light on the table and speaks.

    “‘Is it Thou? Thou?’ but receiving no answer, he adds at once. ‘Don’t answer, be silent. What canst Thou say, indeed? I know too well what Thou wouldst say. And Thou hast no right to add anything to what Thou hadst said of old. Why, then, art Thou come to hinder us?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Christianity, Civil Liberties, Human Behavior, Political Philosophy, Religion, Russia | 9 Comments »

    Hollywood and Flyover America

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 19th January 2014 (All posts by )

    I must have been in college (or possibly even just high school), when I read a thoughtful essay in TV Guide, of all places, to the effect that people all over the world who had never met an American, or been to the United States, almost always formed their impressions of us based on what they saw in the movies, or in television shows. As one of our AFRTS public service announcement tag-lines had it – foreigners don’t know America, they just know Americans – and the Americans which the overseas movie and television audience saw was usually not a very favorable one. This essay must have been put out in the early 1970s, so I imagine the general picture is even less favorable now. Just think of current popular TV shows with an American setting – and consider how America would look to you if that was all you saw, and all you knew was Breaking Bad, a dozen cop shows set in big cities, and half a dozen sit-coms where the characters spend most of their time in suspiciously well-decorated living rooms.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anti-Americanism, Arts & Letters, Civil Society, Current Events, Film, Just Unbelievable, Leftism | 31 Comments »

    Selected Posts from 2013, continued

    Posted by David Foster on 17th January 2014 (All posts by )

    One more batch…

    Freedom, the Village, and the Internet. Will social media re-create the kind of social control once often found in the village community?

    301 Years of Steam Power. What they told you in school about James Watt and the invention of the steam engine was very likely wrong.  Related: 175 Years of Transatlantic Steam.

    An Age of Decline? Is America in one, and is the situation irretrievable?

    The Baroque Computers of the Apocalypse. The remarkable air defense system known as SAGE.

    Book and Video Reviews:

    Fly the Airplane. Two flight instructors write about their romance, their flight around the country in a 1938 Piper Cub, and the life lessons that can be derived from aviation.

    Elective Affinities. Goethe’s novel about a love quadrangle.

    Wish Me Luck. A very good TV series about Special Operations Executive agents working in occupied France during WWII.

    Author Appreciation: Rose Wilder Lane. RWL was both an astute and thoughtful political philosopher and a pretty good novelist.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Aviation, Civil Society, Energy & Power Generation, History, Human Behavior, Military Affairs, Political Philosophy, Tech, Transportation, USA, War and Peace | 3 Comments »

    Seeing to Business

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 14th January 2014 (All posts by )

    Around the end of 2007 and beginning of 2008, I was working two days a week at a Tiny Bidness owned by a friend of mine, Dave the Computer Genius. I had known Dave off and on since 2002, ever since I had looked for a local computer tech to tell me what was wrong with my very first computer. I think that I found Dave through some on-line search, possibly through some local variant of Craig’s list. Anyway, he pronounced my computer well and truly dead, and sold me a rehabbed unit which even if rehabbed was still a better and more up-to-date one than the defunct unit, which I had gotten ten good years out of since buying it at the Yongsan PX. So, I referred Dave to my then-employer, the consultancy dealing in intellectual property (read – did marketing packages and a provisional patent for people who had invented a gadget), and later on he referred me to one of his clients, the ranch realtor, when I was job-hunting.

    Dave did computer installation, training, and trouble-shooting – rather like a one-man Geek Squad – and having a nice collection of regular clients, he did pretty well at it. He talked once or twice of one of them, another Tiny Bidness – a little local publisher owned by Alice G. whom he insisted I would get on with like a house on fire. He promised that one of those days he would take me along when he went to her home/office to work on her computer system, and introduce us. He always thought that we should get together, since he thought we both had a lot in common. And so we did, eventually – although that wasn’t until six months after Dave died of a sudden heart attack.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Business | 57 Comments »

    Are We Living in a Post-Literate Society?

    Posted by David Foster on 11th January 2014 (All posts by )

    Was 1950 the high point of literacy in North America?

    An interesting if depressing piece here: Post-Literacy and the Refusal to Read.

    The author notes that the post-literate individual resembles the person from a pre-literate oral culture in many ways, BUT:

    On the other hand, post-literacy is not a relapse into orality, which, in its intact form, has institutions of its own such as folklore and social custom that codify the knowledge essential to living.  Post-literacy can draw on no such resources, for these have only been preserved in modern society in literature, and post-literacy has not only lost contact with literature, but also it simply no longer knows how to read in any meaningful sense.  It cannot refer to the archive to replenish itself by a study of its own past.

    …which implies, of course, that people in post-literate societies are more susceptible to manipulation than are those in either oral or literate cultures.

    Note also the description of the private college which is so desperate for tuition revenue that it forces its professors to tolerate almost any level of bad performance and outright laziness from its students. As I’ve observed before, the idea that “non-profit” institutions are inherently morally superior to for-profit entities is ludicrous, and increasingly obviously so.

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Human Behavior, Media, Tech, USA | 32 Comments »

    Seth Barrett Tillman, “Purim & My Bangladeshi Friend”

    Posted by Lexington Green on 9th January 2014 (All posts by )

    Our good friend Seth Barrett Tillman has an excellent article, part personal narrative, part meditation on the basis of conflict between Arabs and Jews, based on thoughts on the book of Esther.

    The article, “Purim & My Bangladeshi Friend” may be found by clicking here.

    On the Jewish holiday of Purim the practice is to read the book of Esther. Purim is on March 15-16 in 2014. It is not a widespread practice, but I know Catholics who read the book of Esther on Purim, and I read it last year for the first time. If you have never read it, you should. It is only about 6,000 words, the length of a long article, not a book. You can find it here.

    As Seth notes, while the story is one of survival for the Jews, it also shows the sorrow and disgrace suffered by every defeated people at the hands of their conquerors.

    Every year at Purim, my co-religionists and I read Esther. The story, as customarily explained to children, is that Esther won a contest . . . something akin to the modern beauty pageant. The prize was that she was made queen – the wife of the Persian emperor. As a result, by pleading to her husband on behalf of her brethren, she was well-situated to save the Jewish community from the nefarious Haman, who actively plotted genocide against the Jews. Esther’s courage thwarts Haman and the community is saved, although it remained in exile. The story is presented as one with a happy ending.
     
    But, that is the story as it is told to our children.
     
    By contrast, an adult, who considered Esther, would understand that the story of Purim is also an intensely sad story.

    Highly recommended. RTWT.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Islam, Israel, Judaism, Middle East, Morality and Philosphy, Personal Narrative, Religion | 2 Comments »

    Selected Posts from 2013, continued

    Posted by David Foster on 7th January 2014 (All posts by )

    A Winter’s Tale. An appropriate post given today’s temperatures.

    Saint Alexander of Munich. Alexander Schmorell, a member of the anti-Nazi student resistance group known as the White Rose, has been canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.

    Deconstructing a Nazi Death Sentence. The transcript of the verdict passed by the “People’s Court” on members of the White Rose provides a window into the totalitarian mind.

    Despicable. US Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in Istanbul, compared the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing to the nine Turkish activists killed by the IDF as they tried to break Gaza’s naval blockade.

    Appropriate Reading and Viewing for Obama’s Surveillance State.

    Six Hundred Million Years in K-12.

    Some 3-D Printing Links.

    Aerodynamics, Art History, and the Assignment of Names.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Aviation, Christianity, Current Events, Education, Energy & Power Generation, Environment, Israel, Obama, Philosophy, Religion, Tech | 1 Comment »

    Calling For A Million Mutineers (With Some Backstory, A Plug for America 3.0 And A Really Cool Map)

    Posted by Lexington Green on 19th December 2013 (All posts by )

    Robert Lucas

    I recently ran across this quote:

    For income growth to occur in a society, a large fraction of people must experience changes in the possible lives they imagine for themselves and their children, and these new visions of possible futures must have enough force to lead them to change the way they behave … and the hopes they invest in these children: the way they allocate their time. In the words of [V.S. Naipaul] economic development requires “a million mutinies.”

    A Million Mutinies: The key to economic development, An excerpt from “Lectures on Economic Growth” by Robert E. Lucas, Jr. Professor Lucas is a Nobel laureate in Economics from the University of Chicago, so one of our homies.

    Lucas is right. Major change, political as well as economic, requires a change in peoples’ vision of the future, and requires that “a million mutinies” break out against the status quo.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, America 3.0, Anglosphere, Arts & Letters, Book Notes, India, Politics, Tea Party | 3 Comments »

    Book Review – Breakfast With the Dirt Cult

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 15th December 2013 (All posts by )

    It was a thing that I noticed over the course of my own military service that generally American youth changed more radically between the age of 18 and 25 than at any other time of their life save that span between infant and kindergartner. Or at least, that portion of it that chooses to join the military does. Such people  enlist and trundle off to boot camp and their first duty assignment – they are kids; impetuous, ruled by impulse and mad urges to indulge in all kinds of attractive bad things … but somehow over the course of that rocky journey, the largest portion grow into mature, focused and relatively well-adjusted adults. Serious obligations and sometimes life-threatening experiences – such as serving at the very pointy end of the spear that is America’s military – have that effect.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Conservatism, Military Affairs | 5 Comments »

    Kipling on income inequality

    Posted by Margaret on 11th December 2013 (All posts by )

    AN IMPERIAL RESCRIPT

    Now this is the tale of the Council the German Kaiser decreed,
    To ease the strong of their burden, to help the weak in their need…

    And the young King said: — “I have found it, the road to the rest ye seek:
    The strong shall wait for the weary, the hale shall halt for the weak:
    With the even tramp of an army where no man breaks from the line,
    Ye shall march to peace and plenty in the bond of brotherhood — sign!”
    ….
    And the men drew back from the paper, as a Yankee delegate spoke: –

    “There’s a girl in Jersey City who works on the telephone;
    We’re going to hitch our horses and dig for a house of our own,
    With gas and water connections, and steam-heat through to the top;
    And, W. Hohenzollern, I guess I shall work till I drop.”

    And an English delegate thundered: — “The weak an’ the lame be blowed!
    I’ve a berth in the Sou’-West workshops, a home in the Wandsworth Road;
    And till the ‘sociation has footed my buryin’ bill,
    I work for the kids an’ the missus. Pull up? I be damned if I will!”

    And over the German benches the bearded whisper ran: –
    “Lager, der girls und der dollars, dey makes or dey breaks a man.
    If Schmitt haf collared der dollars, he collars der girl deremit;
    But if Schmitt bust in der pizness, we collars der girl from Schmitt.”

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Diversions, Economics & Finance | 4 Comments »

    Here’s Something Different…

    Posted by David Foster on 9th December 2013 (All posts by )

    Jane Austen: the role-playing game

    More here.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, History, Human Behavior, Tech | 1 Comment »

    Obituary – Historian and Writer T.R. Fehrenbach

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 4th December 2013 (All posts by )

    Late to the party on this one, since I dropped my newspaper subscription a couple of years ago, but one of the ladies of the Red Hat circle I belong to mentioned this to me last night at our monthly dinner out. She couldn’t quite recall his name, but outlined enough that I figured it out, and confirmed by routine googlectomy this morning. He was our own local Victor Davis Hanson; I never met him in person, but I had friends and associates who had. A fantastic historian,(and a military veteran as well, since he was of that era) but personally rather bland and plain-spoken. Two of his books, Lone Star and Comanches are on my desk shelf within reach, and I cannot recommend them highly enough.

    T.R. Fehrenbach, who made history read like news.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, History, Obits | 3 Comments »

    The Mini-Series in 1878

    Posted by David Foster on 21st November 2013 (All posts by )

    Just re-read Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native (outstanding) and watched the 1994 movie (pretty good.) The book, like much Victorian literature, was originally serialized in a magazine, in this case Belgravia: a Magazine of Fashion and Amusement.

    I found the original illustrations that accompanied the serialization here. Inclusion of illustrations was apparently quite expensive in comparison with straight text, even after the efficiency improvements that went with higher print volumes, so they tended to be fairly scarce–only 12 of them for the whole serialized novel, in this case.

    More about the book and the economics of Victorian publishing here…it is interesting that the high cost of book encouraged lending libraries to insist that books be published broken into multiple volumes, so that reader access to the book could be “timeshared,” resulting in a higher ratio of revenue to cost.

    Hardy and the artist who did the illustrations (Arthur Hopkins) were able to collaborate only by mail, and Hardy was not thrilled with the first image of his main female protagonist, Eustacia…he was happier with the later versions of this character.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Britain, History, Media | 2 Comments »

    Your “Art” Only Matters Because Our Country is Wealthy

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 22nd September 2013 (All posts by )

    Historically art in the West exists and has monetary value because our country has wealth and buyers who want to collect it. Recently buyers in China have been on the rise, along with a corresponding value on what “they” would perceive as art (i.e., Ming vases, and a lot of modern Chinese artists, as well). This article describes their growth:

    Chinese spending on art remains robust in 2013. That’s despite a dip in the market last fall and an economic slowdown that recently knocked the Asian nation off its perch as the art world’s biggest spender and back behind the former perennial leader, the United States.

    In a broader sense, there is a question of what drives art, and why some situations with incredible pathos don’t receive the attention they deserve (or much attention at all). For instance there are 1 million children who have been displaced or made into refugees in Syria due to their ongoing civil war. Can you imagine the stories, paintings, movies and television that this story would drive in the West? While we watch “reality” shows about dancing and singing and our “serious” fare covers meth dealers in New Mexico, why aren’t the amazing stories of war (and sometimes redemption, or bitter relapse) grist for “art”?

    As I follow the Congo wars and civil wars, I am also amazed by the dearth of real or fictionalized accounts of either the war itself or its impact on civilians. There is little even though the scale of suffering and conflict is so wide, and the participants so varied.

    For instance, imagine yourself as a writer in Syria or in the Congo. You have all the grist for art all around you. And yet… no one cares, because it doesn’t matter (much) to those that buy and produce art of all types, since they are in the West or part of the growing contingent in Asia.

    It is interesting to me because artists and liberal arts types often view commerce with distaste, and act as if the world would somehow be better if we all dropped our focus on money and attended a play or modern dance or something like that. They believe that there is a “choice” and they can pursue their dreams, even though their dreams are subsidized and provided for by the wealth that is generated by the world of business, and protected by our force of arms, which they also despise.

    Without wealth and military power (or the cover of someone else’s military power, as much of Europe and Asia shield under the US umbrella), art itself is a tiny, meaningless cry in the night. There is no intrinsic “value” in art unless the culture can support and (often) export it. Countries can support their own culture, as France and Italy work hard to do, but this is also tied to their value in the tourism trade and linked to their economic value as “open air museums” since little is actually manufactured or driven from these countries anymore. French literature, which made large impressions in the past (Sartre, etc…) is effectively invisible in the US today, although we’d gladly go visit and tour and drink wine and partake in the fabulous views.

    Another facet of this phenomenon is the growth in “blockbuster” films that are populated with aliens, comic book figures, or supernatural events. These movies sell around the world, while indie-type movies (or even movies with relationships) are relegated to third class citizenship. If it can’t be explained or viewed in a generic manner understandable across cultures, then it isn’t wanted by our major studios. Certainly the Oscars don’t agree with this model, as they continue to hand out awards to movies that 99.999% of the world wide movie population doesn’t see, while ignoring the giant comic-book based movies taking over the screens. The “artists” there are being subsidized by the money-making tent-pole films, although the studios are extremely profit focused and at some point they won’t be be throwing those artists crumbs anymore (after all, they have to pay for expensive mansions and lavish lifestyles and the “cloak” of artistic merit is only worth so much).

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Business, China, Economics & Finance | 7 Comments »

    James Kent on the American Founding

    Posted by Lexington Green on 9th September 2013 (All posts by )

    Happily for this country, we received our jurisprudence from England in its highest vigour, and in its most cultivated state. The leading statesmen in the colonies, and especially the members of the bar, had the sagacity to perceive, and the courage and patriotism to assert, the indefeasible title of their countrymen to all the securities and blessings of the English common law. They had inherited its free and liberal spirit, and in almost every colony there were individual lawyers, equal in character, learning, and eloquence, to their brethren in the courts of the parent state. They were lawyers of the old school, who actually led on the American revolution. They were the daring patriots and intelligent statesmen who roused their countrymen to the duty of insisting on the exclusive right of self-taxation, and to all the other liberties and privileges of English subjects, resting on the basis of the common law, and the sacred stipulations of chartered contracts. It was the lawyers that guided the deliberations of the congress of 1774, and penned its admirable addresses, and stimulated their associates to unite with them in pouring forth their grievances and their exhausted patience, and their determined purpose, in the monumental act of independence.

    An Address Delivered Before the Law Association of the City of New York, October 1, 1836, by The Hon. James Kent.

    We had this to say about James Kent in America 3.0:

    We ended up with a common American legal culture for reasons beyond the Constitution. In the early years of the country there was popular animosity toward anything English and some resistance to relying on the Common Law and English precedent. American lawyers and judges rejected this notion and created an American style of law that was continuous with England’s, though not the same. They managed to keep this system roughly consistent across the entire country by relying on legal treatises that were considered authoritative. The most important example was James Kent’s Commentaries on American Law, which went through many editions.

    Chancellor Kent was one of the most important lawyers and legal thinkers in the history of the Anglosphere. America is an enormous free trade area where business can be transacted efficiently over 3.7 million square miles among 310 million, or more, Americans. We have a common legal culture which makes this possible in significant part due to the work of Chancellor Kent.

    The lawyers never get any credit, though Ronald Coase appreciated what they contribute. The quote above shows that James Kent not only made a quiet, almost invisible contribution to founding our nation. He also understood and appreciated what the lawyers of the Founding generation gave us, precisely because they were thinking as lawyers and made a legal case for our independence, and preserved the legal culture we had inherited from Britain, the common law — though of course with American characteristics.

    Posted in America 3.0, Anglosphere, Arts & Letters, Biography, Book Notes, Law, Politics, Uncategorized, USA | 7 Comments »

    Ambrose Bierce, ‘Fantastic Fables’

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 8th September 2013 (All posts by )

    From the ‘Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce’, Volume 6 some ‘Fantastic Fables’:

    THE LASSOED BEAR
     
    A Hunter who had lassoed a Bear was trying to disengage himself from the rope, but the slip-knot about his wrist would not yield, for the Bear was all the time pulling in the slack with his paws. In the midst of his trouble the Hunter saw a Showman passing by and managed to attract his attention.
     
    “What will you give me,” he said, “for my Bear?”
     
    “It will be some five or ten minutes,” said the Showman, “before I shall want a bear, and it looks to me as if prices would fall during that time. I think I’ll wait and watch the market.”
     
    “The price of this animal,” the Hunter replied, “is down to bed-rock; you can have him for a cent a pound, spot cash, and I’ll throw in the next one that I lasso. But the purchaser must remove the goods from the premises forthwith, to make room for three man-eating tigers, a cat-headed gorilla and an armful of rattlesnakes.”
     
    But the Showman passed on in maiden meditation, fancy free, and being joined soon afterward by the Bear, who was absently picking his teeth, it was inferred that they were not unacquainted.
     
     
    FATHER AND SON
     
    “My boy,” said an aged Father to his fiery and disobedient Son, “a hot temper is the soil of remorse. Promise me that when next you are angry you will count one hundred before you move or speak.”
     
    No sooner had the Son promised than he received a stinging blow from the paternal walking-stick, and by the time he had counted to seventy-five had the unhappiness to see the old man jump into a waiting cab and whirl away.
     
     
    MORAL PRINCIPLE AND MATERIAL INTEREST
     
    A Moral Principle met a Material Interest on a bridge wide enough for but one.
     
    “Down, you base thing!” thundered the Moral Principle, “and let me pass over you!”
     
    The Material Interest merely looked in the other’s eyes without saying anything.
     
    “Ah,” said the Moral Principle, hesitatingly, “let us draw lots to see which one of us shall retire till the other has crossed.”
     
    The Material Interest maintained an unbroken silence and an unwavering stare.
     
    “In order to avoid a conflict,” the Moral Principle resumed, somewhat uneasily, “I shall myself lie down and let you walk over me.”
     
    Then the Material Interest found his tongue. “I don’t think you are very good walking,” he said. “I am a little particular about what I have underfoot. Suppose you get off into the water.”
     
    It occurred that way.

    Bierce’s contemporaries weren’t used to this kind of cynicism and sarcasm, so they gave him the moniker ‘The bitter Bierce‘.

    Posted in Anglosphere, Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Deep Thoughts, Diversions, History, Human Behavior, Humor, USA | 2 Comments »